How Marvel Comics made me an Indie Comics addict

When I was growing up, Marvel Comics were SO GOOD that they gave me a taste for variety that I soon had to move outside of the “Big Two” of Marvel/DC to meet my desire for genres outside of standard super-heroes.

They say the “Golden Age” of comics is really what you were reading when you were 12.  For me that was in the 1970s.  Looking back, the 1970s had some really terrible fashion and home design…

4971701_f260

phx70skitchennational…but some really GREAT comics.  I got exposed to supernatural/horror comics with the classic monsters: Werewolf by Night in Marvel Spotlight #2 (Feb ’72), Tomb of Dracula #1 (Apr ’72), The Monster of Frankenstein #1 (Jan ’73), and the Living Mummy in Supernatural Thrillers #5 (Aug ’73).  I ate up ALL of these…

Werewolf-02-72 Dracula 04-72 Frankenstein01-73 Mummy 08-73

I thrilled to all of these. My personal favorite was Jack Russell, the Werewolf By Night, which was handy because since I was buying the comic anyway I got the 1st appearance of Moon Knight in #32 as a bonus.  I also loved N’Kantu, the Living Mummy, but he was the most short lived of these characters, closely followed by Frankenstein.  Not Surprisingly, Dracula enjoyed the longest run.  That was likely helped along by the creative team of Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan.

And lest we forget, after an initial appearance in the B&W Magazine Savage Tales #1 and a couple of guest shots with Marvel’s jungle-man Ka-Zar, the swamp creature known as the Man-Thing came into his own with Fear #11 (Dec ’72).  To this day I associate him with his tag line (penned by Steve Gerber) of “Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch!”
Man-Thing 12-72
The 1970s supernatural at Marvel spread beyond the overt “monsters” into supernatural “heroes”.  They had the outward trappings of super-heroes (costumes & powers) but Satan himself figured prominently into their origins.  These were, of course, Ghost Rider who debuted in Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug ’72) and the Son of Satan who debuted in Marvel Spotlight #12 (Oct ’73):

Ghost Rider 08-72 SonofSatan-10-73

Ghost Rider was the most enduring of the 70s supernatural characters, still popping up regularly today with hundreds of comics to his name as well as a couple of movies.  Son of Satan popped up again, but once he morphed into “Hellstorm” he was just not the same as the character I loved back in the day.

But it was not just Horror.  I got Science Fiction (filtered through a “wearing a costume” lens, but these were not capes-and-tights super-heroes).  Chief among these were Killraven, who debuted in Amazing Adventures #18 (May ’73) and Deathlok, debuting in Astonishing Tales #25 (Aug ’74):

Killraven 05-73 Deathlok-08-74

Deathlok popped up a number of times in later years, but in fairly changed ways.  That was not the end of it for Sci-Fi at Marvel, we had Adam Warlock.  He appeared in  Fantastic Four & Thor, and then in Marvel Premiere and the 1st 8 issues of his own comic, but as a fairly standard super-hero kind of guy.  Where he really got “cosmic” was when Jim Starlin got his hands on him in Strange Tales #178 (Feb ’75).  This is the run that defined the character for me and really blew my mind.  Gamora’s costume didn’t hurt either, I was a teenage boy at this point:

Warlock 02-75 gamora

And what about Swords & Sorcery?  Robert E. Howard to the rescue with Conan the Barbarian.  This series began in Oct ’70 but I didn’t come along until the John Buscema era which started in #25 (Apr ’73).  That issue had a Kull story that led me right into picking up Kull the Conqueror #8 (May ’73).

Conan 04-73 Kull 05-73

From there I moved to Red Sonja.  She appeared in a few issues of Conan and Kull and finally got to headline her own book with Marvel Feature #1 (Nov ’75):

Red Sonja 11-75And what about the “jungle heroes”?  Ka-Zar, who started in X-Men and then on to  Daredevil, Spider-Man and Hulk, was featured on his own in Astonishing Tales starting with #1 (Aug ’70).  I started reading it when he got his own series, Ka-Zar #1 (Jan ’74).

Ka-Zar 01-74And Martial arts!  I loved Shang Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, I was lucky enough to catch this one from the beginning in Special Marvel Edition #15 (Dec ’73) and also Iron Fist starting in Marvel Premiere #15 (May ’74).  Iron Fist was like Ghost Rider or Son of Satan in that he had the outward trappings of a super-hero, the costume and the glowing fist, but the series read like a fairly straight martial arts adventure.

MoKF 12-73 Iron Fist 05-74

Marvel even put a horror twist on war comics starting with War is Hell #9 (Oct ’74).  Unlike the happy-go-lucky Sgt. Fury title, this featured a hooded skeletal Death that would force the dishonorably killed John Kowalski to inhabit the bodies of people about to die during WWII as part of his penance.

War is Hell 10-74What’s the upshot here?

During my formative years of reading comics in addition to the super-heroes I was exposed to (and LOVED) a lot of comics that were not traditional super-hero titles from a number of different genres.  MOST of these titles did not have very long runs.  Conan, Ghost Rider, Master of Kung Fu made it into the 1980s, but I was looking around for variety right at a point when Marvel was hunkering down and concentrating on super-heroes.

Fortunately, there were an abundance of new “indie” publishers spinning up in the 1980s that fed my “genre fiction” love.  I tried almost everything these new publishers put out, their own takes on super-heroes as well as the genre fiction.  The super-heroes were enjoyable because they had a different “feel” from the costumed heroes from Marvel/DC, but it was the genre fiction stories that primarily stick with me to this day.

Aardvark-Vanaheim brought me Dave Sim’s Cerebus, a title that started in 1977, but I started reading with #16 (May ’80).  Also Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, William Messner-Loebs’ Journey, and Arn Saba’s Neil the Horse:

Cerebus Flaming Carrot Journey Neil

Pacific Comics gave me Michael Moorcock’s Elric, Sergio Aragones’ Groo, Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer, and Mike Grell’s Starslayer:

Elric Groo Rocketeer Starslayer

Comico gave me Matt Wagner’s Gendel & Mage:

Grendel Mage

First Comics gave me Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, Jon Ostrander & Tim Truman’s Grimjack, Mike Grell’s Jon Sable, and Steve Rude’s Nexus:

American Flagg Grimjack Jon Sable Nexus

Fantagraphics brought me Dalgoda, Lloyd Llewellyn, Love & Rockets, and Usagi Yojimbo:

Dalgoda L&R LLoyd Usagi

Eclipse Comics gave me Aztec Ace, Mr. Monster, Ms. Tree, Reid Fleming, Sabre, and Scout:

Aztec Ace Mr Monster Ms Tree Reid Fleming Sabre Scout

I’ll end my walk down memory lane with Dark Horse Comics.  In the 1980s the 2 big things they brought me were Dark Horse Presents & Concrete.  In fact, Concrete’s 1st appearance was in DHP #1:

DHP

That was a nice diversion for a Friday evening.  I had a great time remembering all these great genre books from the 1970s and 1980s.  Marvel definitely gave me the itch in the 70s that the Indie publishers of the 80s scratched.  This love for genre fiction and Indie books survives in my comics buying patterns of today.  On one hand it’s what you grow up with and on the other it’s just giving something different a try.  When those 2 come together?  It’s a dangerous mix.  Look what it created with me….

Bob Bretall: bob@comicspectrum.com
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3 Responses to How Marvel Comics made me an Indie Comics addict

  1. great article BOB…LOVED IT and i totally agree

  2. I wasn’t born until 82, but thanks to finding a cache of my brothers’ comics, I read quite a few 70s books, though that pile was more DC, but still I loved the old Jonah Hex comics, Sgt. Rock, Haunted Tank, House of Secrets, and Warlord. Even super heroes had deeper meaning with more socially conscious versions of Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. Then I moved on to Ninja Turtles and Nexus, and Savage Dragon, I liked because he was actually a police officer. And it carries over to today. My favorites from DC are Demon Knights and Jonah Hex and my favorite books are the likes of Saga and Thief of Thieves and the gone too soon D&D comic.

  3. John, I was the same way with DC, I had an affinity for Warlord, Enemy Ace, etc back in the late 70s & early 80s. DC today? Well I loved I, Vampire & Demon Knights….they both got cancelled. I loved the previous run of Jonah Hex but in the “New 52” it has bugged me the entire time that he’s mostly in Gotham City interacting with characters from Batman & other parts of the modern DCU. I liked it better when it was an actual Western.

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